The Raptors handled the Pistons, and in a way that put to rest a lot of complaints that have tossed at the feet of some of the Raptors. Kyle Lowry controlled all aspects of the game on his way to a triple-double. Serge Ibaka played as well as he did during last year’s immaculate playoff run. Pascal Siakam hit 6 (!) triples and played outstanding defense, and OG Anunoby stretched his legs offensively, seeing just how much room he gets to take up in the car that is the Raptors offense. All those things are gravy to Raptors fans, but in this game it was paired with injuries to two incumbent rotation members of the team: Norman Powell and Marc Gasol.
Gasol pulled up lame in the first quarter, and left the game with a left hamstring strain. Perhaps an indication of too much wear and tear? He’s played a lot of basketball in the last year, and maybe this injury will operate as forced rest. Powell, on the other hand was crunched in between a screen as Luke Kennard angled him into Blake Griffin, who lowered the boom. Powell’s shoulder took the brunt of the blow and he left the arena with his left arm in a sling. All around bad news.
It might’ve been too early to tell if Gasol was on his way to having a good game or not, as he battled with Andre Drummond to start things out with a modicum of success. The Raptors defense was wayward to start out, as the Pistons attacked off of some Raptors turnovers and worked to establish deep post position. It was clear from the beginning that the Pistons knew their guard-play wasn’t going to win this game for them, which was accurate.
Siakam and Anunoby did a good job of ice-ing Griffin’s early possessions on offense, switching freely on any action he was involved in above-the-break. Any time Griffin got into the post the Raptors usually opted to double him, with mixed rates of success. Griffin is a really good passer and was constantly making the right read out of the doubles, and creating good shots. Maybe not in the beginning of the game, but in the majority, the back end of the Raptors defense did a fantastic job of closing out on the Pistons shooters and funnelling them towards the help-defense.
Lowry acted as a vacuum with defensive rebounds and pushed the Raptors into transition and pseudo-transition as often as he could. He bumped as many guys as he could on his way down the court, waiting for his big man to pass him by and letting everyone fill the lane before he found someone sprinting to the rim or the corner. That’s why Siakam was able to evade the Griffin matchup that gave him so much trouble in years past; he shaped up off of Lowry’s penetration and nestled into the porous Pistons defense for open jumpers, finishing 6-11 from downtown.
The most interesting development of this game would have to be Anunoby’s freestyling on offense, though. He got a taste for the paint early on as he filled the lane and Lowry found him with regularity, but Anunoby has clearly been working on his dribble package and he whipped it out more than once against the Pistons. I’m not sure what Anunoby’s career high is for baskets that started with his dribble outside the 3-point line, but last night sure seemed like this was it. He was on balance when he rocked the ball back and forth, ready to attack either foot of the defender, and he dipped his shoulder after he got his first step past them and burst to the rim. Super fun development from Ogugua.
And the story of the second half, which was Ibaka. Putting up a massive 17 & 11 in the second half alone, out-duelling his matchup, Drummond who’s certain to make an All-Star team and remains one of the hardest big men to deal with league wide. It’s impressive that Ibaka was able to do that, because despite being cast as a Center in the NBA these days, he did come in as a power forward and he’s still not big compared to some of the giants in the NBA, which Drummond qualifies as. Ibaka went in against a bigger player who’s known for his motor, and outworked him. Salvaging the early part of the third quarter for the Raptors, and providing a steady hand offensively and defensively as they closed the Pistons out.
So many things went right for the Raptors in this game, and that’s what makes it so disappointing that it came with such a heavy cost, in the injuries to Gasol and Powell. But, the Raptors remain one of the NBA’s most resilient teams and they’ve handled this type of storm before. You’ll hear plenty of players cite the “next man up” maxim when asked about the state of their roster, and this is a team that backs up that ethic. They mean it when they say “next man up” because they have so much faith in the development of the end of bench guys and the incumbents.
Regardless of anything else, the Raptors move to 19-8 on the season and move forward to hosting the Wizards on the 20th.
Just as a heads up, I’ll be on a flight during the game and Zarar will also be busy, so there likely won’t be a reaction podcast for the Wizards game. It’s very likely that, that will be the only missed podcast this season. Sorry, and thanks for understanding.
Have a blessed day.